The UN Sustainable Development Summit is taking place from 25th-27th September 2015 and countries are expected to adopt a new sustainable development agenda and a set of 17 sustainable development goals that build on the eight Millennium Development Goals. The new goals are laudable but are they realistic? We consider the new educational targets…
One of the original Millennium Development Goals was an ambition to Achieve Universal Primary Education. The new sustainable development goal relating to education is more ambitious and aims to ensure that by 2030 “all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes“. Furthermore, it recognises the importance of early childhood development and sets the challenge of ensuring that by 2030 “all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.” There are further ambitions relating to further education, gender disparities, scholarships and supply of qualified teachers. The new goal certainly proposes a more holistic vision of how education is a lifelong process. It recognises that education is only meaningful if it is of a certain standard. Importantly, it also implicitly acknowledges that enrolment alone is not a meaningful indicator of educational achievement or attainment nor does it alone lead to increasing social and economic mobility.
As a small charity running a school in a remote rural part of India, we are only too aware of the challenges of translating these aspirations into day to day practice. In Bakhel, the community where we work in Rajasthan, the literacy rate for the area is less than 12% – that was the national literacy level in 1947, when India gained independence from Britain. Nearly seventy years later, 84% of adults in the community have never been to school themselves and 49% of school age children are not enrolled in school, two thirds of whom are girls. This is the reality for this community despite the global success of the 2015 MDGs – namely: that primary school enrolment has reached 91%; that the number of out of school children has fallen (to 57 million); that the literacy rate amongst 15-24 year olds has improved from 83% to 91% and that “there are many more girls in school“.
It is without doubt true that “with targeted interventions, sound strategies, adequate resources and political will, even the poorest can make progress” as the press release which announced the 2015 MDG report concludes. However, the reality is that in marginalised, rural communities there are often no targeted interventions, no strategies, no resources and little political will. The reasons behind this are complex but an integrated approach is essential in order to bring about change and to lift communities such as the one we work with, out of poverty. This is critical if we are to collectively achieve inclusive and quality education for all. Also, communities have to see a value in education and will only do so if the education their children receive is meaningful and equips them with skills to make choices about their futures. A lifelong love of learning should be a natural consequence of a positive experience of school so if we can get the latter right, we will be nurturing new generations of lifelong learners.
We are partnering with STIR Education to codify best practice and impart simple, yet sound, strategies which we know work and lead to good quality education which engages children and their communities. We are keen to work with local and national government officials to help improve delivery of education in rural areas and to play our part in furthering progress towards a time when all children can receive quality education.